Friday, July 1, 2016

July 2011 to July 2016 - 5 years of Christos military and intelligence corner

This July marks 5 years since I created the Christos military and intelligence corner blogsite. During this time I’ve written many essays on WWII military, economic and intelligence history, I have attracted a small but dedicated audience and I think that I’ve made valuable contributions to WWII cryptologic history.

Did I start with that goal in mind? No.

Prior to 2011 I was simply a person who had read a lot of books on WWII and occasionally took part in conversations at various internet forums. Back then social networking sites hadn’t taken off so lots of interesting and knowledgeable people frequented internet forums. Some were WWII buffs (like me), others hobbyists, wargamers or aspiring historians. Although internet forums weren’t perfect it was possible to have great debates about battles, weapon systems, strategies, personalities etc.

Some of these individuals had researched these cases thoroughly and they had documents from the archives that contradicted the arguments made in ‘popular’ history books. Through these forums I learned that many of the things I thought to be true because I read them in ‘best selling’ books were in fact completely wrong.

In order for someone to take part in these debates and not look like a fool it was necessary not only to have read a few books on the subject but also to have specialized information from academic journals and from government archives. That’s why my next step was to download several articles from academic journals. I also ordered files from the British national archives through their website.

I not only read this material but I also wrote down the main points and created excel tables with interesting statistics (strength and loss reports for men, tanks, planes etc). Thus I was able to debate some of the ‘old timers’ on an equal footing.

At that time I had read a lot on WWII but there was an aspect of the conflict that I had neglected. That was the role of intelligence (not only spies but also signals intelligence and codebreaking). In 2010 the NSA published on their website the ‘European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II’ volumes and I happened to find them through a google search.  I was impressed with this material and especially the fact that after all these years the operations of the German codebreakers were unknown to the public. I knew of the German Navy’s B-Dienst due to the role that it played in the Battle of the Atlantic but I had never heard of Inspectorate 7/VI or the Luftwaffe’s Chi Stelle.

After reading these reports I knew that it would be interesting to research some of these cases further, so I emailed several people (academics and authors) that were known in the field and asked for their assistance plus i told them about my own findings regarding the Russian radioteletype equipment mentioned in the books  ‘Body of secretsanatomy of the ultra-secret National Security Agency’ and ‘The ultra Americans:the U.S. role in breaking the Nazi codes’ (see Bamford, the Russian ‘FISH’ and Unteroffizier Karrenberg - part 1part 2part 3).

Unfortunately I learned that most of them either do not respond to emails or if they do they will just say that they cannot help (or worse).

People in this ‘field’ are weird!

I decided to persevere on my own, so had a quick look online on how to start a blog, how to set it up, how to upload pics etc and I decided to create Christos military and intelligence corner. In the beginning I posted the information i had on WWII statistics and of course my research on the German exploitation of Soviet multichannel radio-teletype networks 1936-1945.

In order to find more material on the work of the Axis codebreakers I contacted a researcher at the British national archives and one at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Thus I was able to copy a lot of the original TICOM reports, i started posting them online at my Google Docs account and I also created a Scribd account in 2012.

One thing that this experience taught me is that proper research requires a lot of time and money. That’s why most history books are shit. Authors simply do not have the resources to check the archives thoroughly.

Especially in the field of intelligence things are further complicated by the fact that government agencies hold important files classified for too long and when they release them they do so in a haphazard manner.

Even so I pushed on and I think that I’ve been able to cover almost all the cases that interested me. In order to achieve this I had to spend my own money, I copied material from government archives in the US, UK, Germany and Finland and I’ve also been lucky enough to receive help from like minded individuals.

A lot of people have helped me by giving me information and/or files and I’ve tried to repay them by giving them some of my own material.

I hope that I’ve helped you as much as you’ve helped me!

Toughest cases

You can find my best essays here.

Some of them required a lot of work either in locating the files or in reading and comprehending them. Here are some memorable cases:

1). The Russian FISH case

Within a few days the team struck gold. They came upon an entire convoy of four German signal trucks, complete with four Fish machines, a signals technician, German drivers, and a lieutenant in charge. Arthur Levenson and Major Ralph Tester, a British expert on the Fish, escorted the whole lot, including the Germans, back to England. Once at Bletchley Park the machines were reverse-engineered to determine exactly how they were built and how they operated. (Levenson would later return to Washington and go on to become chief of the Russian codebreaking section at NSA.)

With enough Fish and other equipment to keep the engineers busy for a long time at Bletchley, the team began a manhunt for key German codebreakers. On May 21, 1945, Lieutenant Commander Howard Campaigne and several other TICOM officers interviewed a small group of Sigint personnel being held in Rosenheim. They had all worked for a unit of the Signals Intelligence Agency of the German Abwehr High Command, a major target of TICOM. What the prisoners told Campaigne would lead to one of the most important, and most secret, discoveries in the history of Cold War codebreaking. Their command, they said, had built a machine that broke the highest-level Russian cipher system. The machine, now buried beneath the cobblestones in front of a building nearby, had been designed to attack the advanced Russian teleprinter cipher-the Soviet equivalent of the Fish.
If this was true, it was breathtaking. For over six years US. and British codebreakers had placed Japan and Germany under a microscope, to the near exclusion of Russia and almost all other areas. Now with the war over and with Communist Russia as their new major adversary, the codebreakers would have to start all over from scratch. But if a working machine capable of breaking high-level Russian ciphers was indeed buried nearby, years of mind-numbing effort would be saved.

The Germans, eager to be released from prison, quickly agreed to lead TICOM to the machine. Campaigne wasted no time and the next day the twenty-eight prisoners, dressed in their German Army uniforms, began pulling up the cobblestones and opening the ground with picks and shovels. Slowly the heavy wooden boxes began to appear. One after another they were pulled from the earth, until the crates nearly filled the grounds. In all there were a dozen huge chests weighing more than 600 pounds each; 53 chests weighing nearly 100 pounds each; and about 53 more weighing 50 pounds each. It was a massive haul of some 7-1/2 tons.

Over the next several days the dark gray equipment was carefully lifted from its crates and set up in the basement of the building. Then, like magic, high-level encrypted Russian communications, pulled from the ether, began spewing forth in readable plaintext. Whitaker, who pulled into the camp a short time later, was amazed. "They were working like beavers before we ever arrived," he scribbled in his notebook. "They had one of the machines all set up and receiving traffic when we got there."

The Russian system involved dividing the transmissions into nine separate parts and then transmitting them on nine different channels. The German machines were able to take the intercepted signals and stitch them back together again in the proper order. For Campaigne and the rest of the TICOM team, it was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. Back in Washington, Campaigne would eventually go on to become chief of research at NSA. Once the demonstration was over, Campaigne had the German soldiers repack the equipment and the next day it was loaded on a convoy, completely filling four heavy trucks. Two TICOM members, including I First Lieutenant Sehner Norland, who would also go on to a long career at NSA, accompanied the equipment and soldiers back to England. There it was set up near Bletchley Park and quickly put into operation. It, or a working model, was later shipped back to Washington. The discovery of the Russian codebreaking machine was a principal reason why both the US. and British governments still have an absolute ban on all details surrounding the TICOM operations.

Initially I wrote about this case in ‘Bamford, the Russian ‘FISH’ and Unteroffizier Karrenberg’ - part 1part 2part 3.

I continued to research this case and after locating the reports SI-32 - Special Intelligence and CSDIC SIR 1717 i presented all the available information in German exploitation of Soviet multichannel radio-teletype networks 1936-1945. (note that Randy Rezabek has covered aspects of this case in Case Studies‎: Russian FISH)

2). Compromise of the State Department’s strip cipher

In the period 1940-1945 the US State Department used the M-138-A strip cipher for encrypting messages classified SECRET. Each embassy had 50 alphabet sets for decrypting circular messages and 50 alphabet sets for direct communications with Washington. The codebreakers of Germany, Finland and Japan were very interested in these messages and during the period 1940-1944 they were able to exploit this traffic.

The German success was made possible thanks to alphabet strips and key lists they received from the Japanese in 1941 and these were passed on by the Germans to their Finnish allies in 1942. The Finnish codebreakers solved several diplomatic links in that year and in 1943 started sharing their findings with the Japanese. German and Finnish codebreakers cooperated in the solution of the strips during the war, with visits of personnel to each country. The Axis codebreakers took advantage of mistakes in the use of the strip cipher by the State Department’s cipher unit.

This has been the hardest case I’ve had to research because the information is scattered in various files, in various collections and in the archives of several countries!

For example I’ve had to copy relevant reports from the US National Archives and Records Administration (OSS, NSA and State Department collections), from the British national archives, from the German foreign ministry’s political archive, from the Finnish national archives, from the Bavarian State Library, from the US National Cryptologic Museum, from books written by Erkki Pale and Aladár Paasonen, from the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records and I’m still not done researching this case!

So far I’ve covered important aspects of this case:

3). Engineering analysis of the Russian T-34/85 tank

The US report Engineering analysis of the Russian T-34/85 tank has a detailed examination of a Soviet T-34/85 tank captured in Korea. I’ve added information from that report in my essay WWII Myths - T-34 Best Tank of the war but locating the report proved to be really, really hard!

The report is mentioned in Osprey books but the author didn’t have a specific reference. I emailed his publisher and they forwarded my request but I never got a response from the author. Instead I tried to find the file at NARA but I was not successful. After emailing the US Army Center of Military History I was told to check with the National Armor and Cavalry Archives and they did have the file but it was in an unpacked box and since they were in the process of unpacking their files they could not copy it for me right away.

By pure luck I saw in a google search that the CIA’s FOIA office listed this file and my researcher went to NARA and copied a few pages from the CIA collection. Thus I was able to confirm that this was the file I was looking for and I requested it from the CIA’s FOIA office.

Then I waited. And waited. And waited…

Then, more than a month later, I got a phone call from the post office asking if i had ordered stuff from the US. The CIA’s FOIA office had gotten my address wrong so the post office people were trying to find where to send the report. After clearing things up I finally got the report, scanned and uploaded it. I also had to pay the CIA’s FOIA office for the copying cost.

4). Inspectorate 7/VI war diary

While looking at the finding aid to the NSA collection RG 457 – entry P11 I saw several files titled Journal/Activity Report, Wehrmacht/Army High Command. For some reason I thought this was the OKW/Chi (Signal Intelligence Agency of the Supreme Command, Armed Forces) war diary and I told my researcher to copy some of the months.

When I got the reports I saw that they were the war diary of the German Army’s signal intelligence service Inspectorate 7/VI and I was not happy. First of all I didn’t think these reports would be very interesting and they were written in German! (Scheiße)

It turns out that they are interesting, very much so, and even though I can’t read German google translate does an adequate job (plus I convinced Frode Weierud to translate some of it).

A friend from the Balkans copied several more of the monthly reports and we exchanged material plus I also located other Inspectorate 7/VI reports (in entry 9032) listed in the sources of the book Delusions of Intelligence: Enigma, Ultra, and the End of Secure Ciphers.

Unfortunately NARA does not have copies of all the monthly reports and many of the ones it does have are of such poor quality that they are practically unreadable. The solution to this problem was clear. I would have to copy the remaining reports from the TICOM collection of the German Foreign Ministry’s Political Archive (Auswärtiges Amt Politisches Archiv).

Together with some friends we formed a team and we copied the material. This was undoubtedly a great success.

5). Books written by former Finnish codebreakers

The Finnish codebreakers solved several foreign cryptosystems during WWII. Their greatest successes were the solution of Soviet military codes and of the State Department’s strip cipher. I was interested in what they had to say about the strip cipher so I tried to find copies of 'Marsalkan tiedustelupäällikkönä' by Aladár Paasonen and ‘Suomen radiotiedustelu 1927-1944’ by Erkki Pale.

It turns out that getting copies of these books is not easy but in the end I got the pages that dealt with the Finnish work on the strip cipher.

My friend Frode Weierud had 'Marsalkan tiedustelupäällikkönä' so I got that part from him. Two friends in Finland had a copy of ‘Suomen radiotiedustelu 1927-1944’ and they sent me chapter ‘DIPLOMAAT TISANOMIAKIN AVATTIIN’. Then it was easy for me to OCR and translate the text.

6). Did the German codebreakers solve the Japanese Purple cipher machine? – Conversation with Otto Leiberich

In the late 1930’s the Japanese Foreign Ministry distributed the Purple cipher machine to its most important embassies and it was used to encipher high level messages to and from Tokyo. Unfortunately for the Japanese the introduction of this new cipher machine wasn’t able to secure their diplomatic communications.

The codebreakers of the US Signal Intelligence Service were able to solve this device in 1940 and according to Russian historians the codebreakers of the Soviet Union, led by Sergei Tolstoy, also solved it. The British codebreakers were not able to solve this system on their own but they received information and a copy of the device from their American allies in 1941.

US reports based on the interrogation of German cryptanalysts claim that the Germans made an effort to solve the Purple cipher machine but were not successful.
There is information pointing to the compromise of this device by the Germans and I’ve presented a summary in German success with Purple?

In 2013 I tried to contact mr Otto Leiberich, chief cryptologist of the German cipher department in the period 1972-1990, because he had written about the Purple machine in his article Vom diplomatischen Code zur Falltürfunktion. Hundert Jahre Kryptographie in Deutschland:

Zwei Erfolge verdienen eine besondere Würdigung: die Entzifferung des Purple-Verfahrens der Japaner und die Entzifferung der amerikanischen Chiffriermaschine M 209.

Während des Krieges hatten die Japaner eine Chiffriermaschine entwickelt und zum Einsatz gebracht, die der amerikanischen Aufklärung größte Probleme bereitete. Da gelang es einer amerikanischen Gruppe um den Kryptologen William Friedman, diese Maschine, die als purple machine bezeichnet wurde, zu rekonstruieren und zu entziffern.

Dies gilt seither in Amerika als der größte Erfolg in der Kryptologie-Geschichte. Angeregt durch eine kürzlich ausgestrahlte Fernsehsendung fragte ich bei einem ehemaligen Kollegen nach, der während des Krieges auf diesem Gebiet tätig gewesen war, und erhielt bestätigt, woran ich bis dahin nur eine ungefähre Erinnerung hatte: Auch die Deutschen hatten die Sendungen der verbündeten Japaner bearbeitet, insbesondere die Meldungen, die der japanische Botschafter Oshima aus Berlin nach Tokio sandte. Einer Gruppe von Kryptologen und Technikern der Chiffrierabteilung des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht (OKW) unter der Leitung des Mathematikers Erich Hüttenhain war die Entzifferung ebenso gelungen wie den Amerikanern. Hin und wieder war ein Bericht schon entziffert und weitergeleitet, wenn Tokio wegen Übermittlungsfehlern um nochmalige Übersendung bitten mußte. Wenn also die Entzifferung der purple machine der größte Entzifferungserfolg während des Zweiten Weltkrieges gewesen wäre (er war es nicht!), so hätten ihn Hüttenhain und sein Team ebenfalls errungen. Leider existieren in Deutschland hierzu keine Unterlagen mehr

Initially I contacted the editorial board members of a journal that dealt with intelligence. Leiberich was also a member of this board but there were no contact details for him. The people I spoke with told me that they could not give me his contact details (which probably makes sense considering his previous government position…).

However his name was listed in the German yellow pages and I decided that I might as well call him and see if I can find out more on the Purple case.

I called twice and he picked up the phone the second time. For some reason I did not really believe that he would be Leiberich the cryptologist and I hadn’t prepared my questions in advance. It had also been a while since I had spoken in English and to make things worse he couldn’t hear me very well!

After asking him if he was Otto Leiberich, the mathematician, and explaining who I was he said that he had written that article a long time ago and he could not remember all the details. The information in the article came from conversations with his coworkers during their lunch break, especially since some of them had worked in this field during WWII.
I apologized several times for calling him at home and he was interested in the fact that I was calling from Greece (Griechenland).

Moral of the story, it’s probably not a good idea to call government officials at their residence, although in this case I’m glad I did!

7). Carlson-Goldsberry report

As I said previously the Finnish codebreakers solved several foreign cryptosystems during WWII and one of their greatest successes was the solution of the State Department’s strip cipher.

In September 1944 Finland signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. The people in charge of the Finnish signal intelligence service anticipated this move and fearing a Soviet takeover of the country had taken measures to relocate the radio service to Sweden. This operation was called Stella Polaris (Polar Star).

According to the NSA study History of Venona (Ft. George G. Meade: Center for Cryptologic History, 1995) by Robert Louis Benson and Cecil J. Phillips, it was at that time that the Finns revealed to the US authorities that they had solved their diplomatic codes. On 29 September 1944 colonel Hallamaa met with L.Randolph Higgs of the US embassy in Stockholm and told him about their success.

In response two cryptanalysts were sent from the US to evaluate the compromise of US codes in more detail. They were Paavo Carlson of the Army’s Signal Security Agency-SSA and Paul E. Goldsberry of the State Department’s cipher unit. Their report dated 23 November 1944 had details on the solution of US systems.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate this report at NARA. The NSA’s foia office however has located the file and it has been placed in the review queue. The problem is that it takes a long time for reports to be reviewed and declassified. 

We’ll see….

8). Compromise of Polish military intelligence codes and Major Szczesny Choynacki, Polish deputy consul in Bern, Switzerland.

One day, while thinking about the compromise of Polish communications in WWII, I remembered that several sources mentioned a person named Choynacki.

According to Wilhelm Flicke’s ‘War Secrets in the Ether’ a captain Choynacki who collaborated with the office of the Polish military attaché in Bern had agents whose information showed that they were in ‘Hitler’s  immediate vicinity’.

Keith Jeffery also mentioned Choynacki in ‘MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949’.

So it was easy for me to put two and two together and I wrote about this case in Polish Stencil codes and secret agent ‘’Knopf’’.

Still important information was missing and I had to wait till Craig McKay covered this case in Major Choynacki’s Ace: the Solution to an Old Puzzle of Wartime Intelligence in order to get the whole story.

9). Referat 12 reports

In 1942 the German Army’s signal intelligence agency Inspectorate 7/VI created a new department to deal exclusively with the solution of enemy agents codes. This was Referat 12 and it was headed by 1st Lieutenant Dr Wilhelm Vauck, a talented mathematician.

I was very interested in locating the reports of Referat 12 and in fact I thought that it would be unlikely that they survived the war.

My first move in tracking them down was to file a FOIA request with the British national archives. Unfortunately that was rejected, so I thought that I would never find them.

Previously I said that I was lucky to find the war diary of Inspectorate 7/VI. Since Referat 12 was a part of Inspectorate 7/VI its reports were included in the war diary, thus I killed two birds with one stone!

That wasn’t the end of this story. Since the reports were in German I used OCR software and google translate plus some parts had to be typed by hand. After translating and studying this material I wrote the essay Allied agents codes and Referat 12.

10). Czechoslovak report ‘Dopady lúštenia šifrovacieho systému čs. londýnskeho MNO z rokov 1940-1945 na domáci odboj

After writing the essay Svetova Revoluce and the codes of the Czech resistance i’ve tried to find out more on the compromise of Czechoslovak ciphers in WWII. Recently i saw online a reference to the report ‘Dopady lúštenia šifrovacieho systému čs. londýnskeho MNO z rokov 1940-1945 na domáci odboj’ and I tried to locate it.

I emailed a well known Czech academic who is an expert on the Czechoslovak resistance but he did not respond.

I requested this report from the Czech Defense Ministry’s history department but they could not locate it.

I even called the editor of their military history magazine in case he knew how to proceed but he wasn’t interested in this case.

How did I solve this problem? I simply asked Jozef Krajcovic. It turns out that the report is held at the archive of the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica.

11). TICOM report DF-112 ‘Survey of Russian military systems’

The report DF-112 ‘Survey of Russian military systems’ was written in 1947 by Alexis Dettmann (an important member of the German Army’s signal intelligence agency) and it contains lots of information on the solution of Soviet military, NKVD and partisan codes.

I saw this report mentioned in the Cryptologia article ‘Cryptology in the early Bundesrepublik’ and after failing to locate it at NARA I tried to contact the author of the article mr Michael van der Muelen. This proved to be harder than expected but in the end a friend of a friend was able to give me his email.

Mr Muelen sent me a copy of the report and I scanned and uploaded it. Thus I was able to learn a lot about German work on Soviet ciphers.

12). Rommel’s supply convoys

One of the most important questions regarding the war in North Africa, during WWII, is what effect did the sinking of Axis convoys have on the overall campaign. Can Rommel’s defeat be attributed to his lost supplies? Or were the losses tolerable?

In order to answer this question I wanted to find the detailed statistics on what was transported from Europe to N.Africa by the Axis powers.

This wasn’t as easy as you’d think. Books on the subject do not have the actual tables. Instead authors give figures or percentages for some of the months. I wanted all of the data.

I first emailed the owner of a website on the Italian Navy but his response was that ‘I’m limiting my assistance only to academic research’.

I guess the rest of us are the unwashed masses and we don’t need these files…

Anyway, I tried to find another source and I asked Andreas Biermann for this information. He scanned the relevant pages for 1941-42 and I typed the data into an excel file.

These are just a few of the cases that proved hard to crack. In fact even easy cases had parts that required a lot of work to get right.

Remaining cases

At this time I’m only actively researching the case of the strip cipher. I’m also waiting for several of my cases to be processed by the NSA’s FOIA office.

Hopefully these will be released soon and they will add to our knowledge of WWII history.
Be patient and let’s keep our fingers crossed!

For now enjoy these interesting files:


  1. Five Years Well Spent
    Thanks it was all great stuff
    Please keep up the good work

  2. Your blog is brillant. Cannot say how much I admire you.